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New Zealand Bans New Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration

Energy
lauwen66 / Flickr

New Zealand will no longer offer new permits for offshore oil and gas exploration, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Thursday.

"The whole world is going in this direction," Ardern said. "We all signed up to the Paris agreement that said we're moving towards carbon-neutrality, and now we need to act on it."


The ban only affects future permits for offshore oil and gas exploration and will not affect the existing 22. This could allow exploration to feasibly continue in a 38,000-square-mile area until the existing permits expire, which could be "as far out as 2030," the government acknowledged. Permits for onshore oil and gas exploration will also continue.

The energy industry and the opposition party were alarmed by the announcement. New Zealand Oil & Gas told Reuters they were not warned about the new policy.

"We note that the announcement is a sudden change of policy, which has not been consulted on and appears to conflict with the government's pre-election promises," the company said.

The center-right National Party condemned the ban, calling it "economic vandalism" and claiming that it made no environmental sense.

Ardern noted, "Nothing will change overnight. These existing permits have very long lead times. We'll be seeing oil and gas exploration for a number of years to come. And the jobs—the four-and-a-half thousand jobs in this industry—will continue too."

"But we're putting a line in the sand and saying, now it's our job to plan for the future," Ardern said. "We will make sure we've got that transition plan in place, and what the future of clean, green, carbon-neutral New Zealand looks like."

The 37-year-old prime minister, who was elected in October, campaigned on an ambitious environmental agenda. Her government has pledged to power the country's grid with 100 percent renewable energy by 2035 and becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

Jacinda Ardern at the swearing of new cabinet in October. Wikimedia Commons

Greenpeace New Zealand celebrated the announcement. Executive Director Russel Norman praised Ardern for personally accepting a 50,000-strong Greenpeace petition to oppose oil and gas exploration.

"Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her Coalition Government have taken an historic step and delivered a huge win for the climate, spurred on by the tens of thousands of people and environmental NGOs like Greenpeace who have fought for years to end new oil and gas exploration," he said in a statement.

"While we will continue to demand a complete end to fossil fuel exploration on land and sea as well as the revoking of existing permits, this has been one of Greenpeace New Zealand's longest running campaigns and today marks a great success for so many people," Norman continued.

He added, "Greenpeace also supports the Prime Minister's commitment to a just transition to a clean energy future, which can provide jobs and a big boost to our economy."

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

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At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.